William Hardy, owner of Dawg Gone Good BBQ, poses for a photo outside the restaurant on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in Athens, Georgia. Dawg Gone Good BBQ is located on West Hancock Avenue in downtown Athens. (Photo/Jessica Gratigny; @jgratphoto)

William Hardy trained as a cook in the Army, did a stint in New York as a model and eventually worked for 30 years as a hairdresser in Athens — the last 14 years of which in the location his restaurant now occupies.

Hardy, also known as Mr. B.J., runs Dawg Gone Good BBQ on West Hancock Avenue. In January 2020 after years of building a business that operated seven days a week, Hardy began closing on Sundays, he said.

In 2020, the combination of COVID-19 and racial justice movements in Athens changed the course of decades-old restaurants, including Hardy’s and Dexter Weaver’s.

William Hardy achieved his dream

Hardy cooked barbecue for friends and tailgating at University of Georgia football games using his grandmother’s recipes. Hardy’s grandmother and people who sampled the barbecue encouraged Hardy to follow his dream and open a restaurant, he said.

One night, while Hardy shared some of his barbecue with friends, he thought, “This is doggone good barbecue.” With a slight tweak from “dog” to “Dawg,” he knew he had his restaurant’s name.

Hardy knew the owner of Wilson’s Soul Food, formerly in Athens. Wilson’s closed at 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. While working as a hairdresser, Hardy convinced the owner to let him do a pop-up restaurant Friday and Saturday nights from 5:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. each week for three months, he said.

The pop-up restaurant was successful, but for two more years, Hardy searched for a spot to open a restaurant. Finally Hardy decided to close his hair salon and open his restaurant in the same location. He opened Dawg Gone Good BBQ on Nov. 29, 2009, the day of the Georgia-Georgia Tech football game.

Hardy started by only opening the restaurant on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. until 3 a.m., he said. Gradually, Hardy added daytime hours and new days to the schedule until Dawg Gone was open seven days a week.

Hardy’s barbecue is well-seasoned with a dry rub, and Dawg Gone provides a variety of sauces to enhance the flavor, he said. If a person is unsure what to order, the staff at Dawg Gone will give the customer a small sample, Hardy said.

“It’s so good, we let you taste it before you buy it,” Hardy said.

Hardy has had an increase in customers since the summer, including people who told him they were there to support Black-owned businesses.

“We’re going to ride this thing out successfully,” Hardy said. “We just keep on serving the people, and the people just keep on coming.”

Despite the pandemic, Weaver D’s thrives

Weaver operates the iconic Weaver D’s soul food restaurant on East Broad Street, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary this year. Part of the restaurant’s legacy, confirmed in 2006 when the James Beard Foundation classified it as an “American Classic,” is its slogan “Automatic for the People.”

Weaver said the phrase means “ready, quick and efficient,” but it took on a meaning of its own as the title of Athens-based rock band R.E.M.’s eighth studio album. Customers of Weaver’s and budding rock stars, the group asked Weaver for permission to use the slogan in 1992. Now, because of the connection to R.E.M., Weaver D’s is famous worldwide.

Weaver said his food is “home cooking, made with a lot of love and patience.” He credits his mother and other family members for many of the recipes the restaurant features.

Several years ago Weaver D’s had a lean period. Weaver said he turned things around by reinventing himself through added specials to the menu and increased catering to churches.

People are coming back to restaurants because they are tired of eating at home, Weaver said. A customer told him they would die if they had to eat one more bowl of cereal. Although catering is currently down because of COVID-19 restrictions, Weaver believes the restaurant is doing well.

“I don’t think sales are down,” Weaver said. “I think they are booming.”

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include Dexter Weaver's first name. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has since been corrected.